Council hopes for another federal victory

Not far removed from their successful luring of 6,400 Department of Defense jobs to Mark Center, city officials are continuing their attempts to lure a federal tenant to the Victory Center, the 605,000 square-foot unoccupied building on Eisenhower Avenue. That one structure comprises half of the citys total vacant office space.

The Council passed an official proclamation Tuesday in support of housing federal employees. They hope it puts Alexandria at the top of a short list to host two agencies in the market for new space: The Department of Defense Medical Command Headquarters and the Defense Intelligence Agency.

I think that its important that we make an affirmative statement for what we want and why we want it and take an action as the legislative body of this city to communicate our desire to have a federal town at the Victory Center, said Vice Mayor Kerry Donley.

The Army Material Command once filled that vacancy, but it has sat empty for years, having been renovated in that period. The site meets the highest federal security regulations and a plan has been approved by the city for an even larger sibling building of 650,000 square feet and two parking structures to create a highly secure office campus, according to a Council memo.

Officials said the Victory Center is in a unique position to lease to the federal government because of its easy access to the Van Dorn Metro Station, bus transit and a possible railway stop in the future.

Burning bridges

Its the end of a long, arduous era. Theres no longer a need for the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Task Force, a vestige of the massive construction project that began in 1999. The City Council on Saturday dissolved the group of stakeholders responsible for keeping an eye on the bridges construction and liaising on behalf of the community. 

Though the Capital Beltway is still undergoing a redesign related to the 6,736-foot-long bridge, the last ribbon cutting the bridge will likely see occurred last year with the opening of the bike and pedestrian track alongside its 12 lanes.

Tricky Bob?
Legislative Director Bernie Caton gave the City Council an update on the status of the governments state legislative package in Richmond Tuesday, much of which has not moved forward save for the charter change necessary to move the citys local election cycle from May to November.

This year nobody seems to be talking about anything with any passion because the budget situation is so great and the solutions dont seem to be there, Caton said

In general, the city is concerned about retaining state funding for public safety, education and health services and any other funding, for that matter that could be reduced. 

At a joint General Assembly session, Gov. Bob McDonnell laid out his agenda for state budget solutions to grow jobs and boost economic development, but his approach to unveiling his budget spending in a piecemeal fashion drew unease from Councilman Rob Krupicka. He worried that the states core financial responsibilities, which have aid to localities on the chopping block, have thus far taken a back seat to easily digestible actions of the state legislature.

The parts that havent been unveiled yet are the ones that will cause the biggest hurt, Krupicka said. We have a few more years of tough budgets and tricks and gimmicks dont get you through a long, protracted downturn.

Caton reported that its safe to assume that there will be significant cuts to localities in addition to the almost $3 million Gov. Tim Kaine handed down last year. 
Two million, three million more? 

The skys the limit at this point, Caton said.

Heavy or light?

When U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood announced a grant program in December aimed at improving community livability with more transit options, city departments jumped on the opportunity. But they may have pounced too quickly.

Councilman Paul Smedberg expressed frustration with city staff for going after $8.5 million in grants to fund a bus transit-way at Potomac Yard that he said the community had not fully vetted.

The community never had a real debate, in my opinion, of what kind of transit people wanted to see in that community, Smedberg said. Just because its less expensive doesnt mean its going to be right in the long term.

Metrorail and light rail solutions have been discussed in the past in addition to rapid transit buses.

This [decision] in my view locks us into buses, Smedberg said. Personally, I think this is a big enough policy debate that it shouldnt be made with staff alone in a vacuum.

Rich Baier, director of Transportation and Environmental Services, said the conversations have been going on for five or six years but had been somewhat fractured. 

The system could be operational as soon as 2012 should the city receive the grant, Baier said, while Vice Mayor Kerry Donley speculated that the prospect of winning the funds is probably not very likely.